COLUMBUS (WCMH) — On the eve of an important decision about the health of Lake Erie, farmers and lawmakers at the statehouse are asking for the governor to rescind an executive order he signed just last week.
Thursday, the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission will meet to vote on whether to have the state Director of Agriculture declare eight watersheds in distress, and that could force farmers to make changes to how they manage their runoff.
For decades, phosphorous and other chemicals have created annual algae blooms in Lake Erie.
Millions of dollars have been spent researching solutions and some progress has been made, but not enough for some people like Heather Taylor-Miesle with the Ohio Environmental Council.
“The reality is that the lake is still suffering and we are at a critical juncture,” said Taylor-Miesle
As a result, Governor John Kasich wants the commission to approve the distressed designation for the following eight watersheds in the Maumee River Basin:
- Platter Creek Watershed
- Little Flat Rock Creek Watershed
- Little Auglaize River Watershed
- Eagle Creek Watershed
- Auglaize River
- Blanchard River
- St. Mary’s
- Ottawa River
When discussing what has been done in recent years to fix the lake and prevent it from getting worse, Kasich said he believes it is getting better.
“We’ve seen improvement, but it isn’t going to happen overnight,” said Kasich. “Now are there additional steps that we can take? Absolutely and this is a pretty dramatic step because we couldn’t pass this through the legislature.”
Lawmakers say that dramatic step is going to impact around 6,000 farmers across the state of Ohio.
“It’s been the small and mid-sized farm, the family farm that we talk about, that we’re really throwing something brand new at them,” said State Representative Brian Hill the Republican Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.
Even Speaker of the House Representative Ryan Smith expressed disagreement with the Governor’s executive order.
“Personally, I just wanted to express my disappointment on the fact that this type of major policy is not moving through the legislature,” said Smith.
Lawmakers and farmers are concerned that the rules put in place as a result of this executive order will make it difficult for small farms with already slim margins.
As a result they want the Governor to rescind his executive order and question why two members of the commission were replaced last Friday right before this week’s vote.
According to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the two men Kasich replaced would have voted against what Governor wanted, had they been on the commission.
Jon Keeling with Governor Kasich’s office provided this statement to us today:
“The general assembly wisely created a system in which an independent commission makes decisions to protect sensitive watersheds so that politics and special interest pressure doesn’t get in the way. We’re seeing the value of that system right now. In the absence of the general assembly acting earlier this year to protect watersheds, existing measures the general assembly created, utilizing indisputable science, are rightly being put to work.”
Tomorrow’s Soil and Water Conservation Commission meeting is at 10am in Reynoldsburg, Ohio.